A bargain-basement “X-Men” with a heavy dose of teen angst told in the all-too-familiar “found footage” style of “Blair Witch” and its innumerable imitators, “Chronicle” follows the increasingly dark adventures of three high school buddies endowed with telekinetic powers via their encounter with some sort of unexplained underground entity. The focus is on Andrew (Dane DeHann), a bullied kid with a terminally-ill mother (Bo Petersen) and a brutish, alcoholic father (Michael Kelly) whose anger at the world eventually leads him to use his newly-found abilities to lash out against his tormentors.
“Chronicle” starts out fairly promisingly, with DeHann drawing a nicely nuanced portrait of a kid who’s pretty much friendless apart from his more gregarious cousin Matt (Alex Russell). But after he, Matt and popular classmate Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find themselves endowed with extra-normal powers, they become a virtually inseparable trio, developing their skills, which come to include the ability to fly. This “positive” part of the narrative culminates in a school talent show, in which Andrew uses his “magic” to become an instant member of the “in” crowd.
Unhappily, in the aftermath of that triumph Andrew’s world falls to a new low, and he begins to exploit his powers to punish those he sees as his enemies. Matt and Steve try to help but can’t, and in one case their efforts end in tragedy. Andrew ends up an emotional wreck out to do as much damage as possible—and only one of his super-powered comrades has any chance to stop him. The upshot is a final reel that comes across like bad outtakes from “Superman II,” with flying buses, cars tossed hither and yon, and whole building facades collapsing. (The fact that one contender is wearing a hospital smock doesn’t help.) Frankly, if the makers wanted to go for some sort of cinematic homage at this point, it would have been better for them to opt for a gender-altered version of the “Carrie” finale instead.
On the positive side, Russell and Jordan deliver engaging turns as the more psychologically grounded of the leads. But the supporting cast has a touch of amateurishness, with Kelly and Ashley Hinshaw, as Matt’s love interest Casey, coming off as forced. The effects, however, are reasonably good for a modestly-budgeted feature, at least in the early going. The misguided last reel, unfortunately, pushes the visual wizards past what they can effectively manage.
The movie’s major flaw, though, is the tired “found footage” formula. It begins with Andrew’s decision to “record everything,” partially to document his father’s mistreatment but going far beyond that. Added to that is Hinshaw’s characterization as an incessant videographer who’s constantly shooting material for her blog. But in the picture’s later stages, in particular, the conceit that what we’re seeing comes from news reports, security cameras and cameraphones grows more and more difficult to accept. And frankly the formula seems unnecessary anyway; “Chronicle” could easily—more easily, in fact—have been constructed as a straight drama with no loss of impact. Otherwise, though, the movie is technically proficient enough.
By the close, however, you might think it a pity that Professor Xavier couldn’t have intervened and channeled these guys’ talents into more productive pursuits.